Exhibition of textile collection donated by the Foundation for the Indonesian Archives Building – how the private sector support’s Indonesian museums

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Bhimanto Suwastoyo, Asiantoro, Esti Utami, Halida Hatta and Judi Achyadi open the exhibition. (photo: IO/Tamalia Alisjahbana)

Not only do Jakarta museums lack the fund to buy collections but under current regulations they also do not have the authority to do so. Consequently, they depend upon the generosity of the private sector.

IO – On the 1st of December 2018 the Jakarta Textile Museum opened an exhibition of the textile collection do­nated by the Yayasan Gedung Arsip Nasional RI or Foundation for the Indonesian Archives Building to the museum in 2014. The collection con­sists of 97 textiles from various parts of the Indonesian Archipelago. “When I first saw the pieces one by one in the boxes I thought that it was not a spectacular collection, “commented Judi Achyadi who is the chief con­servator at the museum, “but when I saw them altogether beautifully dis­played in the museum, I realized that it is a spectacular collection.” Judi Achyadi is one of Indonesia’s fore­most textile experts who has written several books on Indonesian textiles which have become classics in their field. Perhaps what she meant was that the collection makes the viewer aware of the variety of techniques, workmanship, colours, materials, composition and designs of Indo­nesian textiles, thereby providing a broad over view of the wealth and va­riety of Indonesian textiles and that amongst the pieces are some unique ones.

The Yayasan Gedung Arsip Na­sional RI or the Foundation for the Indonesian Archives Building was created to look after the Indonesian National Archives Building located at Jl Gajah Mada no 111, West Jakarta. It was built in 1760 as the country estate of Dutch East India Company Governor General Reyner de Klerk. Many consider it the jewel in the crown of Jakarta heritage buildings.

In 1995 the building was in a ne­glected state and every rainy season it would experience nearly half a meter of flooding. That year Indonesia cele­brated its 50th independence anni­versary and a group of idealistic peo­ple living in Jakarta collected funds to restore the building from the Dutch business community in Jakarta as a fiftieth independence gift from the Netherlands to the people of Indone­sia. Queen Beatrix, herself came to Indonesia and symbolically handed over the funds for the restoration of the building. The restoration was fin­ished in 1998 and was done so well that it later received the UNESCO Cultural Heritage award for best res­toration in the Asia Pacific region.

1998 proved to be a turbulent year for Indonesia when the government fell and its economy collapsed. In Jakarta rioting broke out and Jalan Gajah Mada which is traditionally al­ways the worst hit street during riots in Jakarta, was a collection of shat­tered glass and burnt out buildings. Fortunately, the National Archives Building was spared. When rioters came with petrol cans to burn down the building the seventy workmen working on the restoration chased then away and when the scaffold­ing was finally removed to reveal the beautifully restored, stately 18th century building with its manicured gardens, it was a symbol of hope for the street: a message that Indonesia would survive and rebuild.

Th 1998 economic crisis left the government extremely short of funds including funds for maintaining and running a heritage building such as the Archives Building on Jalan Gajah Mada. The parties who had been involved in raising funds and carrying out the restoration of the building were therefore permitted to establish a foundation to manage and look after the Archives Building. The foundation would be responsible for the Building’s budget. In the 13 years that the Foundation for the In­donesian Archives Building managed and maintained the building the gov­ernment was not to spend a single rupiah on the building. During that period, it was the only government owned property that was insured and the only central government owned museum that did charge the public an entrance fee. It ran the building as a museum with periodical exhibitions beside its permanent exhibition of co­lonial furniture and maps. The first twenty schools which contacted the Foundation before the opening of an exhibition were always provided with funds to rent one school bus. During its management of the building it paid over Rp 2 billion in non-tax state rev­enues to the Treasury and substan­tially increased the museum’s collec­tions. It was a good example of public private partnership where patriotic citizens tried to help the government during a very difficult period for the country and stands in stark contrast to the many big companies that called upon the government to save them fi­nancially during that period, at the expense of the taxpayer. The Foun­dation saved and increased the value of a government asset.

After 13 years, the Foundation was required to return the building to the government, i.e. the National Ar­chives of Indonesia. The Foundation requested the Ministry of Finance for permission to transfer its collection of textiles to the Jakarta Textile Muse­um rather than the National Archives as the preservation and management of textiles are outside the expertise and function of the Archives. The Foundations request was supported by the National Archives as well as the Ministry for Bureaucratic Reform. It had a few similar bequests for the National Museum. After four years the Ministry of Finance acquiesced and the collection of 97 textiles found a new home with the Jakarta Textile Museum. Mr Chatib Basri, the new­ly incoming Finance Minister at the time, was instrumental in making this possible.

The collection began when the Foundation bought a collection of East Timorese (it was not yet inde­pendent at the time) textiles from a Dharmawanita or government wom­en’s organization owned shop to sell at the Archives Museum shop, when its director was visiting Timor. The Dharmawanita shop was able to provide information about the area in East Timor where each piece originated as well as provide bas­kets woven in each of the areas. A few months later there was an ASE­AN textile congress in Jakarta and a Thai lady who was setting up an ASEAN textile museum bought the whole collection for her museum. By then Timor Timur had become Timor Loro Sai and the Foundation then bought more Timorese textiles for the museum shop. The collection was misplaced for a number of years and when it was rediscovered it was decided not to sell the pieces but to start a collection for the museum. By the time the building was returned to the government the Foundation had put together a collection of nine­ty-seven textiles from various parts of the Indonesian Archipelago.

The symbol of leeches woven into this Dayak tenun represent war and aggression during the conflicts between the Dayaks and the Madurese in the late 1990s. (photo: IOTamalia Alisjahbana)

The collection has some interest­ing pieces reflecting the social history at the time they were produced. An example is a Dayak ikat woven at the time some of the Dayak tribes were in conflict with Madurese settlers in Kalimantan. At that time the Day­ak women were weaving ikats with symbols of leeches which represent aggression and war. One of these is on display in the collection. An­other interesting Dayak piece was woven by an old lady who was one of the best weavers. She had never been out of the jungle when she was taken on a journey to Jakarta and Jogjakarta. When she came back, she wove a beautiful ikat, at the top of which are symbols of the Borobodur and underneath that symbols of Monas or the national monument in Jakarta. The piece was cho­sen because it reflects a certain aspect of social history namely in this case when the traditional world of the weaver came face to face with the national culture and reality of her nation; what she wove was a reaction to that. “The Dayak weavers try to translate on to cloth things that they have seen and heard and certain pat­terns. A Dayak woman who wishes to become a weaver may not do so until she has a dream to guide her. Each time she weaves something new she waits first for a dream because what they weave is a message from the gods. Even then, there are some symbols and objects that may not be woven until a weaver reaches a cer­tain age and status within society,” explained Judi Achyadi.

The buketan or bouquet motif on the left in this Eliza van Zuylen batik still bares a resemblance to the Indian tree of lifewhereas the bouquet on the right shows Art Nouveau influence. (photo: IO/Tamalia Alisjahbana)

Some of the textiles are relatively old as for example one of textile hang­ings from a wedding pelaminan or bridal bed in North Sumatra. When the piece was first created a pat­tern was cut out in newspaper and then this was placed on the textile, cut out and embroidered and sown. The newspaper cutting was never re­moved and today we can still see the date on a piece of the Straits Times reading “10th May 1917” allowing us to exactly date the textile. The most expensive pieces are the nine old tapis pieces from Lampung finely wrought with gold thread. The piec­es together could now fetch nearly a billion rupiahs today. These piec­es are matched with further antique songkets (brocades) and selendangs or shawls form West Sumatra and Jambi, also heavily woven and em­broidered with gold thread. There are also intricately machine embroidered vests from Aceh.

This central Javanese batik displays the wayang figure of Arjuna as he prepares to meditate to win the great Bharata War. (photo: IO/Tamalia Alisjahbana)

The collection has tried to provide examples of the different varieties of batik. There is a Batik Belanda or batik with Dutch influence made by the most famous Batik Belanda pro­ducer of the time: Eliza van Zuylen. The buketan or bouquet motive of the Dutch and Eurasian batik producers became popular with the Chinese ba­tik producers and in the exhibition is a batik made by the most famous Chinese batik producer, Oei Soe Tjo­en. The colours are brighter than the Batik Belanda and the workmanship is so fine that it almost hurts one’s eyes to look at it. There are also ex­amples of the Arabic influence in the batik Besore with its Arabic script and the Indian influence in a central Javanese batik featuring the wayang figure of Arjuna who is preparing to meditate in order to win the great Bharata War. Although the collection is not an in-depth collection of any one area or style of Indonesian textile it does provide a broad overview of the richness and diversity of Indonesian textiles.

Arabic script depicting verses from the
Qur’an are used to decorate this batik. (photo: IO/Tamalia Alisjahbana)

The exhibition however, is not only to exhibit the collection donated by the Foundation for the Indonesian Archives Building but also to try to draw the public’s attention to how important their support for Indone­sian museums is and hopefully to inspire more members of the public to support our museums. Amongst the textiles are posters explaining the activities and functions of Wastrapre­ma (Textile Lovers), the oldest textile association in Jakarta, Wastra Indo­nesia (Indonesian Textiles), Yayasan Batik (the Batik Foundation) and the Indonesian Heritage Society.

Oei Soe Tjoen’s delicate butterflies and flowers on a viberant red background. (photo: IO/Tamalia Alisjahbana)

“When the Jakarta Textile Muse­um was first established it had no collections so Wastraprema looked for donations and managed to ob­tain about 500 textiles for it. Wast­raprema and the Textile Museum share the same birthday date,” ex­plained Neneng Iskander a textile expert and a member of the board of Wastraprema. It has also held ex­hibitions at the museum. The Tex­tile Museum now has a collection of 3000 donated textiles.

Another textile organization with close ties to the Jakarta Textile Muse­um is the Yayasan Batik Indonesia or Indonesian Batik Foundation. After UNESCO listed batik as world heri­tage the Indonesian Batik Foundation worked to establish a national batik museum. In 2010 as the nucleus of such a museum they established the Yayasan Batik Indonesia Batik Gal­lery in one of the buildings of the Tex­tile Museum. There, they have held batik exhibitions displaying various important private collections as well as holding seminars and workshops on batik with the Museum.

A display of tapis woven clothes and Acehnese machine embroidered vests. (photo: IO/Tamalia Alisjahbana)

Wastra Indonesia’s mission is to preserve, study, educate the public and help develop traditional Indo­nesian textiles. They also hold work­shops, talk shows and exhibitions and are happy to work together with other organizations. Wastra Indone­sia is currently looking for volunteers and donors.

Meanwhile, the Indonesian Heri­tage Society has a wide multi-cultural membership whom they offer the op­portunity to learn about Indonesia’s rich and diverse cultural heritage through the Society. The Indone­sian Heritage Society has a cooper­ation with several Jakarta museums whereby they organize joint events, link relevant experts and artists to the museums and inform their mem­bers of museum events and exhibi­tions.

Many Indonesian museums are lacking in funds, collections and expertise. In this the private sector may be of service by donating time, energy, expertise or collections to the museums. As Asiantoro, the Head of Jakarta Tourism and Cultural Ser­vices said, “The museum cannot buy collections because not only does it not have the funds to do so but under current regulations it also does not have the authority to do so.”

The exhibition was opened by Ha­lida Hatta the last head of the board of trustees of the Foundation for the Indonesian Archives Building and former member of the board of direc­tors, Bhimanto Suwastoyo together with Asiantoro, Esti Utami, the head of the museum and Judi Achyadi. In opening the exhibition Halida Hatta remarked that her father Mohamad Hatta, Indonesia’s first Vice President liked to quote the following Dutch saying, “A nation is built by deeds and those are built by your deeds.”

(Tamalia Alisjahbana)